An iconic Southern delicacy, boiled peanuts are a unique and delicious comfort food that are symbolic of Southern hospitality. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to boil peanuts to replicate those fabulous roadside boiled peanuts you know and love. This Boiled Peanuts recipe is super easy and lends itself to all kinds of fun flavor variations. Enjoy this favorite Southern snack food at your social gatherings, barbecues, picnics, and tailgate parties!
It all started about 9 years ago when we visited my husband’s parents in Georgia. I had moved to the U.S. several years earlier but this was my first time to the South and I was excited to go sightseeing. I also wanted to experience truly traditional Southern foods. You know, the hidden gems that only true Southerners know about. My husband’s stepmom is a born and bred Georgian and I gave her the task of filling in any gaps I was missing from my own research. And she knew just what those were. We hopped in the car and she took us to two roadside stands.
First stop: Muscadines. They just happened to be in season. I thought, “Muscadines? What are those?” I popped one into my mouth and felt my teeth cut through the thick skin as the jelly inside exploded and I tasted the most concentrated grape flavor imaginable – like Concord grapes on steroids. I looked at her with a grin, nodding in approval. I grabbed a bag and took it to the checkout.
Second stop: Boiled peanuts. (Boiled peanuts? Say what?) I broke the sopping wet, softened shell open with my fingers as the salty brine dripped to the ground and was welcomed by a row of cute purple-skinned peanuts all hugging each other in a perfect row. I removed them from the shell and popped a couple in my mouth. Chewy to slightly mushy, salty, briney, earthy…and utterly delightful. It was love at first bite and I’ve been hooked ever since.
But there was a problem. I knew once we boarded the plane and got back home to Washington I’d never find boiled peanuts or muscadines again. Fortunately the solution to the boiled peanuts problem wasn’t too difficult: I learned how to make my own (score!). The solution to the muscadines wasn’t so easy: I could only have them if I visited the South or if I moved to the South. So two years ago…we moved to the South. (No, it wasn’t just for the muscadines.) And guess what? We’ve already planted three varieties of them in our fruit orchard!
The Daring Gourmet Turns Peanut Farmer
That is, on very small, home garden scale. Considering I’m now living in Virginia, home of the first commercially grown peanuts and home of the world famous gourmet Virginia Jumbo peanuts, and considering I’m a passionate gardener, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try my hand at growing my own peanuts. So I planted them for the first time last year and as you can see in the photos below, they were a smashing success! I planted two types: Valencian and Virginia Jumbo. This year I’ve tripled my peanut patch. Seriously, who would have ever guessed I’d someday end up a peanut farmer!
Planting the seeds and the first peanut plant sprouts emerging…
Peanuts grow underground and this is what a peanut plant looks like pulled up from the ground (see below).
Valencian peanuts (pictured in the top left picture above) have dark, reddish-purplish skins, usually fit 3-4 nuts per shell, and are most commonly used for making boiled peanuts. On the bottom right is my Virginia Jumbo peanut variety. The nuts are so huge there are usually only 1-2 nuts per shell. They have a high oil content and are a little sweeter than other peanut varieties. They are “gourmet” peanuts and are most commonly reserved for roasting and snacking. They come with a higher price tag but they are also excellent for boiling.
What Are Boiled Peanuts?
Boiled peanuts are a classic Southern snack made simply by boiling raw unshelled peanuts in salted water for several hours until they are soft and tender and infused with the salty brine. Traditionally only salt is used for flavoring but today you can find vendors selling a variety of flavors such as Cajun, garlic, and dill pickle, to name a few. It is a unique and delicious way to enjoy peanuts.
Boiled peanuts have a different texture compared to crunchy roasted peanuts. They’re very soft and moist, similar to a cooked bean. The shells absorb the flavors of the brine during the boiling process and infuse the peanuts inside with a salty, savory flavor.
Boiled peanuts are a delicacy of the South, a comfort food, and are deeply intertwined with Southern culture where they are a symbol of Southern hospitality.
Where Did Boiled Peanuts Originate?
Peanuts originated in South America and the Portuguese brought them to Africa where they soon became widespread due to their relative ease of cultivation. It was the Africans who then introduced the peanut to the United States along with other favorites like black-eyed peas, yams, okra, and watermelons. Dating back to Colonial times, the enslaved Africans grew peanuts in their small allotted garden plots for their own families – a familiar and beloved food from home. They ate them raw, roasted them, added them to soups and stews and, of course, boiled them.
By the time the Civil War rolled around peanuts were being enjoyed by the white population as well, including by Confederate soldiers who were given them as part of their rations. The first peanuts to be grown commercially were grown in Virginia and soon peanuts were being shipped north. Peanuts continued increasing in their popularity as people reached for them as a tasty snack food (roasted), sandwich spread (peanut butter) and cooking oil. But boiling them was a method largely unknown except to black families who continued the tradition of preparing large pots of them, recognizing that the practice of sitting, shelling and eating boiled peanuts lended itself perfectly to social communion with family and friends.
Fast forward the years and by the turn of the 20th century Southern whites had caught on to the tradition and soon boiled peanuts became a craze throughout many areas of the South: they were served at ball games, county fairs, church picnics, barber shops, roadside stands, by city street vendors, and even at weddings.
And so, along with fried green tomatoes, watermelon, okra, black-eyed peas, yams, pimento cheese and other beloved Southern staples, boiled peanuts have remained a cherished Southern tradition and can still be found in Georgia, the Carolinas, and the southernmost part of Virginia.
What Are Green Peanuts?
Traditionally raw green peanuts are used for making boiled peanuts. These are different than what we call simply raw peanuts.
Raw peanuts are peanuts that have been air-dried and retain about 10% of their moisture content. In this way they can be stored longer in a cool, dry place until they’re ready to be roasted or cooked.
Green peanuts are raw peanuts that have been freshly dug from the soil and have had no moisture removed. With their high moisture content they are highly perishable and must be refrigerated or frozen as soon as they leave the field. For this reason, green peanuts are only available during harvest season.
Traditionally green peanuts are used for making boiled peanuts but you can use raw peanuts instead with equally great results. Read below.
Can I Use Raw Peanuts Instead of Green Peanuts?
Absolutely. Die-hard boiled peanut purists will insist you should only use green peanuts for making boiled peanuts but don’t listen to them. In fact, I’ve confirmed first hand from road-side boiled peanut vendors throughout the South that most of them use standard raw peanuts out of convenience: Green peanuts are only available during harvest season, have a short shelf life and must be refrigerated or frozen whereas raw dried peanuts can be purchased year round and stored for many months. Will you be able to tell the difference in the end result? No. When it comes to making boiled peanuts, the only difference between raw and green is how long they need to be boiled. Because green peanuts are fresh and haven’t had any moisture content removed, they don’t need to be boiled as long. Raw peanuts have been air-dried and have a lower moisture content and so they need to be boiled longer. You can use either with equally excellent results.
If you’re interested in using green peanuts you can often find them at farmer’s markets in the South, at Asian markets, Indian markets, and from online sellers.
Can I Use Roasted Peanuts to Make Boiled Peanuts?
No. Roasted peanuts lack the moisture content necessary for achieving the right texture. You must use either raw or raw green peanuts.
Boiled Peanut Flavor Variations
Boiled peanuts are a delicious snack that can be enhanced with various flavors. Here are some flavoring ideas to try with boiled peanuts but feel free to experiment on your own!
- Traditional: Boil the peanuts with salt and enjoy them with their natural flavor. This simple method enhances the delicious natural peanut flavor.
- Seasoned Salt: For traditional boiled peanuts with some added flavor, add some of our homemade Seasoned Salt.
- Spicy Cajun or Creole: Add our homemade Creole Seasoning or a combination of spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder to lend some spicy kick to the peanuts.
- Old Bay: Add some of our homemade Old Bay Seasoning for a delicious crab boil flavor.
- Greek: Add some of our homemade Greek Seasoning for a unique flavor twist.
- Zesty Lemon Pepper: Add some lemon juice and lemon pepper seasoning for a tangy and refreshing flavor.
- Sweet and Spicy: Create a sweet and spicy flavor by adding a mix of honey, soy sauce, chili flakes, and a touch of ginger to the boiled peanuts.
- Italian: Add some Italian seasoning (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc) and garlic.
- Barbecue: Add some dry barbecue spice rub or coat the boiled peanuts in your favorite BBQ sauce after they’re done cooking.
- Buffalo Style: After they’re done cooking, toss the peanuts in melted butter and hot sauce for a tangy and spicy buffalo flavor.
- Taco Seasoned: Add some of our homemade Taco Seasoning (omit the flour) for a zesty Mexican twist.
- Honey Mustard: Combine some honey and Dijon mustard and coat the finished boiled peanuts in it for a sweet and tangy flavor combination.
How much seasoning you add comes down to personal preference. Adjust the amount to your taste preferences and gradually add the flavors so you can control the flavor intensity.
Boiled Peanuts Recipe
Let’s get started!
To make boiled peanuts, you’ll need raw or green peanuts, water, salt, and any additional flavorings you like.
Wash the peanuts to remove any debris, discarding any bad peanuts while you’re at it. If you’re using green peanuts, wash them 3 times, changing the water between washes. If you’re using raw peanuts you only need to wash them once.
Place the peanuts in a large pot with the water.
I’m using Hampton Farms raw peanuts because that’s what was available at my local produce stand this time but there are many good brands to choose from, including these you can buy online. If you prefer to use green peanuts, you can often find them at farmer’s markets in the South, at Asian markets, Indian markets, and from online sellers.
Add the salt and stir to combine. Stir in any additional seasonings if using.
Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let the peanuts simmer.
I weigh down the peanuts with a large dinner plate to ensure they remain immersed under water.
Allow the peanuts to simmer for about 2 to 4 hours for green peanuts or 5-8 hours for raw peanuts, depending on the desired tenderness. Check the peanuts occasionally for desired doneness. Some people prefer them very soft, almost mushy, while others like them firmer. Check the water level periodically and add more water as needed.
Once the peanuts have achieved their desired degree of doneness, remove the pot from the heat and let the peanuts cool in the cooking liquid. Drain and enjoy your boiled peanuts.
They will store in the fridge for up to a week.
Boiled peanuts can be enjoyed hot, at room temperature, or cold. You can reheat them in the microwave if you prefer them warm. To eat, crack open the shells, eat the nuts inside, and discard the shells.
For more delicious Southern favorites be sure to try our:
- Shrimp and Grits
- Fried Okra
- Corn Pudding
- Andouille and Greens with Cheese Grits
- Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
- Skillet Cornbread
- Southern Black Eyed Pea Salad
- Grillades and Grits
- Fried Catfish
- Chicken Fried Steak Burgers
- 2 pounds raw or green peanuts in the shell (NOT roasted peanuts)
- 4 quarts water
- 1/3-1/2 cup kosher or sea salt (adjust according to taste; 1/2 cup is typical)
- 3 tablespoons seasoning of choice (optional) (see blog post for lots of delicious ideas!)
- Wash the peanuts to remove any debris, discarding any bad peanuts while you're at it. If you're using green peanuts, wash them 3 times, changing the water between washes. If you're using raw peanuts you only need to wash them once.
- Place the peanuts in a large pot with the water and salt and stir to combine. Stir in any additional seasonings if using. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let the peanuts simmer. I weigh down the peanuts with a large dinner plate to ensure they remain immersed under water. Allow the peanuts to simmer for about 2 to 4 hours for green peanuts or 5-8 hours for raw peanuts, depending on the desired tenderness. Some people let them simmer all day. Check the peanuts occasionally for desired doneness. Some people prefer them very soft, almost mushy, while others like them firmer. Check the water level periodically and add more water as needed. Once the peanuts have achieved their desired degree of doneness, remove the pot from the heat and let the peanuts cool in the cooking liquid. Once cooled, drain the peanuts. Boiled peanuts can be enjoyed hot, at room temperature, or cold. You can reheat them in the microwave if you prefer them warm. To eat, crack open the shells, eat the nuts inside, and discard the shells. They will store in the fridge for up to a week.